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Wrapped in Burial Shrouds

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Elenora only understood one of the torrent of words that Sacha let loose when he slept. He was such a silent man since they had left Paris—certainly he had never been talkative, but his silence was impressive, even for him.

But his sleep-talk was in Russian, and though Elenora bent her ear to understand, the words flowed around her like a thick fog. She understood just the one.

Mikhail. Mikhail.

There was no anger in his voice when he spoke his friend’s name, though his native tongue often sounded angry in his sleep. In truth, Elenora could scarcely remember a time when he spoke Russian in front of her. While he sometimes struggled through his english, he was set in it.

Not so in his sleep. She listened to his mutterings now. They were on their way to Baghdad. They had spent three gloriously Dominion-free days in the company of an old friend, on the island of Capri, off the coast of Italy. There, Elenora drank great quantities of tea and ate delicate foods and worried over her valet.

Mikhail. Mikhail.

Even now he spoke his name. His sleep was feverish and restless, and often Elenora was woken, not by his dreaming cries, but by the sound of his pacing in his quarters. The villa was beautiful, but it was not the most private place she’d ever slept. The floors screamed when the housekeepers walked by. She’d heard things from another room (she’d never figured out whose) that made her blush for hours, and made her thoughts, uncomfortable and thrillingly pleasant, drift towards Peter.

Perhaps Sacha had been speaking in his sleep about his lost friend for a long time. Perhaps she only noticed it now because of the paper thin walls. But she thought not.

Something terrible had happened to Sacha in Paris, something far beyond the terrible things that happened to them every day.

She listened to the rise and fall of his words, the darkness thick around her. Her curtains were drawn, and the moon was new, and it was impossibly dark.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness just as she realized that he was repeating something else. She sat up in bed and searched frantically for a match (the villa, of course, was terribly quaint, and only the main areas had electric lights). She lit the lamp by her bedside and found pen and paper.

“YA lyub lyu tebya. Ne osta vlyay menya snova.”

 

Sacha joined her for breakfast looking as if he’d not slept at all. His face hung, his eyes were bloodshot, and he moved gingerly, as if he’d hurt himself. She poured him a tea, and he filled it with sugar. She watched with a now-familiar sense of fondness and revulsion that perfectly encapsulated their relationship.

“Valentin,” she began. “I was wondering if you could translate something for me.”

His eyes flickered to her and then back down to the toast that he held in his knobby, scarred hands.

“Of course, mum.”

“YA lyub lyu tebya. Ne osta vlyay menya snova.”

“I—I do not know, mum.” Valentin’s face had paled.

“Oh come now, Valentin," she steeled her voice. "You may not have been to your homeland in some time but I’m sure you remember something of your native tongue. It is important.”

“Mum,” his voice held all the quality of a stubborn dog, forced to sit. “It sounds as if you are saying something like, ‘I love you. Do not leave me.’”

Elenora looked out over the water, tears in her eyes.

 

“I am packed, mum,” he said, to her back. She did not jump—she had heard him coming, the floorboards screaming with each inelegant footstep—and she had known the reason. Her own luggage was almost prepared. Packing had become such an important activity. She found little nooks for the last remaining picture of her late husband, for the bits of piece of paper she had gathered in Havana, for the little metal angel that had saved Peter’s life in Paris. She had nothing to bring with from their days in Capri, and she didn’t mind one bit. It did no good to dwell on beautiful days, however glad she was to have them. The rest of their time would be too dark.

“Good,” she kept her tone light. “Perhaps we can leave the nightmares behind, eh, Valentin?”

“What do you mean, mum?”

“You have not rested well since we left Paris.”

“I am sorry if I woke you, mum,” he was sullen.

“It is not my rest I am concerned for, Sacha,” she used the familiar term now, carefully. “It is you.”

“I am—fine, mum.”

“You are not.”

She turned to look at him, the knots of muscle standing out in his back as he stared at the delicate rosebud wallpaper of her room. “Valentin. You are not fine.”

His jaw moved, his neck flexed, and she saw his hands were closed into fists. But it was not anger at her that she saw in his silence.

“Valentin. You must talk to me.” 

He sighed, and for a moment she thought that he would continue his silence, but--

“Mum. When as sailors we died, we treated our comrades with respect. We dressed them, wrapped them, and weighed them down. Their bodies were carried into the blackness of sea. They sunk. They left. Sometimes—sometimes, mum, our dead do not sink away so easily. Sometimes we hold on to their chains. Sometimes we wrap ourselves in their shrouds.”

She spoke gently. “Is your love dead, Valentin?”

“I—I do not know, mum. I hope he is.”

A long minute passed between them, silent.

“Our beloved dead keep rising on us, don’t they?”

He did not speak. His back was still to her, but she thought—she feared—that he was crying.

She reached out a hand—too thin for her age—and touched his back. “We will carry their shrouds together.”

She felt him shake beneath her hand.

“Let us depart for Baghdad, Valentin.”

He nodded and left the room. She turned and looked down at her suitcase, tears blurring her eyes and heating her face. They ran freely down her cheeks, down her chin, and darkly dotted the folded blouses. She shut the suitcase. She would bring something from Capri—the salt water ghosts of tears, the memory of love that neither of them would experience again.